Every Tasmanian deserves to have access to the best health services available – it’s a belief that is at the heart of the Hodgman Liberal Government’s record investment in health, including extra beds and hospital staff.
It is however an unfortunate reality that our health system has become a victim of the most hypocritical politics and the subject of Labor and union scare campaigns and false claims. As a result I have chosen to provide a separate submission to the Subcommittee, which is in addition to the Government’s broader submission, in order to provide some important context.
The Government has proven that it genuinely wants to make a difference in people’s lives. We have made some very important improvements in Tasmania’s health care system, with an increase in frontline hospital staffing of more than 300 full-time equivalent staff in the Tasmanian Health Service, a record investment in health of more than $7 billion - more than $1.3 billion more over the next four years, compared to the previous Government’s last Budget.
Repeated claims that 2014 Budget repair strategies led to current pressures in our health system are demonstrably false and not supported by the facts. The Government purposefully targeted back-line efficiencies and directed funding toward the frontline, and during 2014-15, we maintained the number of doctors and nurses, increased bed numbers, and admitted more patients from Emergency Departments.
Elective surgery waiting lists are now at record lows and much more importantly, there are significant reductions in the time Tasmanians wait for their surgery. There are also improvements to emergency care, mental health services and our ambulance services.
However, there is no doubt that for many Tasmanians what they experience at Tasmania’s hospitals is far from acceptable. We have not and would not make any claims that after just three years it is “fixed”. Too many people wait too long in our Emergency Departments; despite massive improvement, we still are not treating everyone in time for elective surgery; and whilst there have been gains, the waiting times for outpatient care remain too long in many specialties.
It is important to recognise that these pressures are the result of increased demand, not a lack of investment.
Tasmania has 2.54 beds per 1000 people, which is a greater number than Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia – it is a far cry from when we had the lowest rate of hospital beds in Australia under Labor in 2011-12.
We can and will however do better. Our commitment to improving Tasmania’s health system has already been demonstrated and we won’t back away from continuing the job we have started.
It is important to note that the Subcommittee’s Inquiry is occurring in very different circumstances to the 2012 Cost Reduction Strategies in Health Inquiry. That inquiry was convened in the wake of savage Budget cuts by the former Labor-Green Government that exceeded $500 million and included cuts to frontline services, including elective surgery and acute inpatient bed closures. An Inquiry the then Labor Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne arrogantly refused to front or participate in.
In contrast I look forward to engaging positively with the Subcommittee about how the Hodgman Liberal Government is addressing Tasmania’s long-term health system challenges.
As Minister, I have held more than 20 public meetings around Tasmania over the past three years, which has helped me to learn about the challenges people face accessing health care in this state and has informed improvements to the system.
I see the Subcommittee’s Inquiry as a valuable part of that ongoing process, and I am very happy to be able to contribute both with this and the Tasmanian Government submission and I would be happy to speak directly to the Subcommittee if requested.
My submission to the inquiry can be found here: http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/ctee/Council/GovAdminA_HealthServices.htm